Sherman the victim of ridiculous expectations

Fans want it both ways when it comes to athletes playing an emotional game
01/30/2014 5:53 PM ET
By Doug Williams

Cornerback Richard Sherman participates in a Seattle practice ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII.(AP)
We football fans are funny. We watch grown men tackle each other and beat each other into submission every Sunday. After the whistle blows, however, we expect these warriors to behave like saints. How dare they say anything controversial? How dare they make disparaging remarks about their competitors?

The truth is, we want the best of both worlds. We want our players to be smart and well mannered and we also want them to be as brutal and physically intimidating as possible. And we're shocked when sometimes those two don't mix.

This wasn't always the case. In years past, we didn't really care who these guys were. We watched highlights of Dick Butkus and Deacon Jones knocking the snot out of people and that was the extent of our caring. Now, we follow the players on Twitter. Now, we have documentaries and all-access television shows that allow us to go deeper into these people's lives.

Richard Sherman's on-field tirade last weekend was the explosion of all of these changes combined with the reputation of one interesting man. Nobody is even trying to pretend that the story is about football because it's not. The bottom line is that Richard Sherman is a great cornerback -- probably the best in the NFL. But that's not the story. To us, the story is that Richard Sherman doesn't appear to be as good of a guy as we thought he was.

But in reality, it's not about Richard Sherman at all. It's about the unrealistic expectations of today's football fan.

Most of us have no idea what it's like to prepare mentally for an NFL game. I can't even imagine the feeling. You step out onto the field where there are 70,000 fans screaming their lungs out. But you're not just there to be celebrated; you're there to work. You're there to attack the opponent and you're there to win. Imagine the adrenaline all of that entails, and then multiply it by two considering that you're playing for the chance to play in the Super Bowl.

THAT is what made Richard Sherman scream in his postgame interview with Erin Andrews. It wasn't his personality or his fine education from Stanford, it was the fact that he had just endured an incredibly intense battle and played a significant role in its victory. Should Richard Sherman have said some of the things he did? Probably not. Not because they were wrong, but because in this day and age it's just a matter of knowing how sensitive everybody is. It's become the job of the athlete to censor himself, to perform a certain way even if it misleads the public in order to keep everybody happy.

Playing professional sports in America has always been hard, but it's undoubtedly harder now than ever before. We have always celebrated greatness on and off the field, and that will forever remain true. But allowing players to be themselves and show their real emotions and passions ... that's where we get stuck. We're far past the time when sports audiences judged players only on speed, toughness and athleticism. In this day and age, they are people first and athletes second.

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